Why Every “Good Asian Daughter” Should Also Be Selfish

Photo credit: Juliann Cheryl Photography, model Kelsey Chan

Photo credit: Juliann Cheryl Photography, model Kelsey Chan

When I was growing up, my parents often told me that I was too selfish. Since I’m the baby of the family, it was easy to demand too much and not think about others. So I apologized a lot and became the opposite extreme: too accommodating and unable to make clear decisions for myself because I kept considering others. It was only after I got older that I realized that being selfish doesn’t always carry a negative connotation. In fact, there are moments in life when it’s important to say, “Screw it, I’m going to do what’s right for me.”

Let’s take school and work as an example. Parents always have high hopes for what they want you to be when you grow up, and usually it’s to follow in their footsteps. And it’s understandable; that’s what worked for them, it’s what they know, and ultimately they want the best for you.

The problem is that your experiences in life, and your interests, may be entirely different. And that’s okay. We’re part of the millennial generation that wants more out of life than just a steady job and decent pay. We want personal fulfillment. That’s not often something our parents considered (or even thought of).

You’re the one who’s going to be working hard toward that goal and living with it, not your parents and certainly not your friends. That’s not to say you shouldn’t hear out other opinions about what college, major, or job to choose. But at the end of the day, the choice is yours and yours alone.

This is one instance you really have to say, as Eugene from Buzzfeed did, “I don’t care what other people think!” Plus, the happiest people I know built their careers out of passion and a sense of purpose, which ultimately comes from within. It’s too stressful, mentally and emotionally, trying to live your life based solely on what others want for you.

Speaking of mental health, family and friends are important to life too. Being selfish doesn’t mean you need to neglect them. Life is all about balance, and selfishness is no exception. It’s imperative to take “me time,” away from family and friends, to unwind and reboot.

It can take some time to learn how to juggle career, social life, and “me time,” but the key is be honest with yourself and prioritize the social interactions that truly matter. Don’t feel bad if you can’t keep up with all five of your social circles.

It’s about quality over quantity and no matter how much your career is taking off, there’s room for at least three to four special people in your life. And when it’s really busy? Even a simple phone call to catch up can count toward maintaining connections.

Another aspect of selfishness includes self-care. Take the time to exercise and eat right for your own health (and not because someone says you need to look a certain way). As Cassey Ho of Blogilates says, “When you strip away everything, even your job and family, your health is you. It’s who you are and it’s the reason you live.”

In the end, our favorite way to be selfish starts with first knowing what you want out of life—because no one is going to hand anything to you on a silver platter. It’s on you to decide how you want to live: in a job that fulfills you or bores you to death? With aches and pains or energized and refreshed after working out? Weighed down by others’ opinions or buoyed up by the respect of friends, family, and peers? The best person to figure all that out is you.

I know, it’s not easy. It took me a quarter of a decade before I finally realized how to balance being selfish in my career and personal life, while being a genuinely nice person to friends and family.

Know that selfishness has a proper place in your life, if done right. Plus, half the fun in life is the sense of accomplishment you get from knowing that you chose this career path, you made those rock-hard abs, you landed that handsome hunk of a man (more on that another time). The other half of fun in life is getting what you want.

So go out there and chase your dreams and passions, selfishly. And don’t be sorry for it.